With the 2022 regular season almost over, it is that time for us to go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this season.
Today, we look at outfielder/infielder/injured guy Eli White.
When your team finally has success after years of failure, when it has a truly great run that is head and shoulders over any other era in team history, it becomes the touchstone for fans’ frames of reference. Once that era passes, we find ourselves harkening back to that time, seeing it as a template for future success, wanting to analogize those who come after to those who were there at the zenith.
For Rangers fans, that means looking back to the 2010-16 years, a seven year stretch where the Rangers were one of the best teams in baseball. That success has us, consciously or unconsciously, looking at the players who made up those teams as the preferred comps when discussing players coming up now. We don’t talk about who can be the new Marlon Byrd or the new Mark DeRosa or the new Doug Strange or the new Rick Helling...those are throwbacks to lesser times.
And thus we come to Eli White, who, it appeared, would be The New Craig Gentry (trademark pending).
There are a number of similarities between Eli White and Craig Gentry. Both were born the southeastern part of the United States (White in South Carolina, Gentry in Arkansas). Both attended college in their home states (Clemson and U of Arkansas). Both were later round picks — Gentry was taken in the 10th round, White in the 11th* — who were drafted and signed exactly a decade apart. Neither got more than token appearances in the majors until their age 27 seasons. Each appeared to profile as light-hitting bench guys who would contribute with speed and defense.
* White was selected with the 6th pick of the 11th round in 2016, 17 picks before the Rangers selected Joe Barlow, and 19 picks before the Dodgers selected A.J. Alexy.
Now, I shouldn’t oversell the comps between White and Gentry. Gentry wasn’t really a quote-unquote “prospect” coming up with the Rangers. Unlike White, who was drafted out of high school and then as a draft-eligible sophomore before signing the third time he was drafted, after his junior year, Gentry went undrafted out of high school and as a college junior (when he was recuperating from Tommy John surgery) before being a $10,000 senior sign in 2006. He didn’t crack the Baseball America top 30 Rangers prospect list until 2010, when he was #28 on the Rangers list. Jamey Newberg had Gentry at #31 on his top 72 prospect list prior to the 2010 season.
Eli White, on the other hand, had some prospect chops. He was signed for $100,000, ten times what Gentry got, when he was drafted, and was ranked #259 and #321 on the BA draft boards his sophomore and junior years. He snuck into the Texas League top 20 list for BA after the 2018 season, and was #18 on the Rangers’ BA prospect list heading into 2019 (although the farm system wasn’t good at the time, as we all know now). He was acquired in the 2018-19 by the Rangers in the Jurickson Profar trade as an infielder with a quality hit tool, spending most of 2019 at AAA Nashville as a shortstop, getting just a couple of dozen appearances that year in the outfield, and moving to the outfield for real only in the COVID-19 season.
And in talking about the Rangers acquiring White from the A’s, it makes me realize that there’s another parallel with White and Gentry, and Gentry, you may recall, ended up being dealt, along with Josh Lindblom, by the Rangers to the A’s in exchange for Michael Choice and Chris Bostick. One of those fabled lose-lose trades.
Eli White has not hit, at all, in the major leagues. He has a career .185/.260/.296 slash line in 117 plate appearances, good for a 55 OPS+. That’s pretty terrible. He did hit .200/.274/.305 in 117 plate appearances in 2022, which is still bad, but was good for a 65 OPS+, at least — that was an improvement. And White ended up putting up a bWAR of 1.0 and an fWAR of 0.9 in 117 plate appearances in 2022, a rather Gentry-esque performance, reminiscent of Gentry putting up 7.8 bWAR from 2011-13, in just 709 plate appearances over 291 games.
White put up solid WAR numbers in so few plate appearances due to his grading out extremely high with his defense and his baserunning, making up for his inability to hit.
However, White also got so few plate appearances in large part because of another commonality he has with Craig Gentry — an inability to stay healthy.
Folks forget about this, but Craig Gentry struggled to stay on the field. He wasn’t on the 2010 playoff roster because of a fractured right wrist that ended his season. He was slowed in spring training, 2011, due to both the wrist and a sprained A-C joint. After being called up to the majors in May, Gentry landed on the list former known as disabled in July due to a neck/head injury for a brief period of time.
Come 2012, Gentry was slowed by a hamstring injury in spring training, then when he got back into the lineup immediately injured his wrist diving for a fly ball. Later that spring he left a game due to dehydration and had to go see a doctor about it. He did, however, manage to stay off the injured list in 2012.
Come 2013, he had a hamstring issue that slowed him in spring training once again. During the regular season, he spent several weeks on the injured list due to a fractured hand, suffered on an HBP. In 2014, with Oakland, he started the year on the d.l. with a back injury, was slowed by a knee injury in June, then landed on the disabled list again with yet another broken hand. Not long after the hand injury, Gentry landed back on the injured list with a concussion that ended his season. Gentry spent most of 2015 in the minors, landed with the Angels for 2016, and spent most of that year on the injured list due to back and lat issues. In 2017 with the Orioles, he suffered a fractured finger that limited him to pinch running duty for the final month of the season. Come 2018, he was slowed with leg issues in spring training, then spent time on the d.l. again with a rib injury.
The problem with injury prone players is that they get injured a lot. That was the case with Craig Gentry, and it is a one more thing he and Eli White have in common.
Eli White spent the last six weeks of the 2019 season on the injured list in the minors with a shoulder injury, after crashing into a wall. Come 2020, he had an impressive spring training before the pandemic put things on hold, and was part of the team’s 60 man player pool during summer camp 2020. He appeared likely to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster until an oblique injury put him on the shelf until September. In 2021, White missed the final two months of the year due to a damaged UCL that required that new-fangled internal brace surgery.
Which brings us to 2022. White made the team, was sent down early, came back up, hit great for a short burst, then didn’t hit at all, then collided with Charlie Culberson in the outfield in early June and broke his wrist. White recovered to where he could go out on a rehab assignment with Round Rock in September, but ended up being pulled off it because of knee discomfort, effectively bringing his season to a close.
White has the ability to provide value off the bench for a major league team, but he has to stay healthy in order to do that, and that hasn’t been happening. Meanwhile, Bubba Thompson has gotten an opportunity in the big leagues over the last couple of months of the season, and he’s played well enough that he would seem to have moved ahead of White in the “righthanded hitting defense-and-speed outfielder off the bench” role. White does have the added versatility of being able to play the infield, which is nice, but it doesn’t necessarily outweigh the fact that he hasn’t hit and hasn’t stayed healthy.
So 2022, like 2021, ends in disappointment and an injured list stint for White. With 40 man roster spots at a premium this offseason, I think there’s a good chance White ends up being waived or non-tendered in the next two-plus months. I imagine the Rangers would like to keep him around if possible, and if he’s with the Rangers this spring he’d have a legitimate shot at a roster spot, but the questions about his bat and health would seem to be too great for him to be around on anything other than a minor league deal.